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Do landlords discriminate in the rental housing market? Evidence from an internet field experiment in US cities_Hanson, Hawley

March 2011

Andrew Hanson, Zackary Hawley


This study investigates racial discrimination in the rental housing market by using email inquiries in response to Craigslist postings to simulate interactions between landlords and potential renters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C. Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. The emails were drafted using names associated with particular races as well as variations of the emails that included language meant to reflect social class. The results show that the response rate is lower for African American renters than for White inquiries. In regards to the intersection between race and social class, the results suggest that there is discrimination against African Americans in cases where both inquiries are made using the “low-class” email templates. Furthermore, the study shows that in communities that are on the “tipping point” (i.e. neighborhoods that have a minority population between 5% to 20%) there is more severe discrmination.

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Policy Implications

This study highlights one of the many ways in which African American applicants (and specifically those from lower social classes) are discriminated against in the rental housing market. While this type of discrimination is more subtle and difficult to detect, there are ways that this can be combatted through public policy, for example through “first come first serve” initiatives that require landlords to respond to inquiries based on when they are received rather than their ‘quality’. These policies would be especially beneficial in “tipping point” neighborhoods where discrimination is more likely to occur.

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